True Crime Book Takes On ‘Maniac’ Behind 1927 Bath School Disaster | #College. | #Students


On May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, an embittered member of the Bath Consolidated School Board detonated hundreds of pounds of dynamite in the school.

38 children and 6 adults were killed as a result of the blast, and the so-called Bath School Disaster remains the worst school massacre in American history.

Harold Schechter is a true crime writer who wrote “Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer.”

WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with Schechter about the book.

Interview Highlights

On Who Kehoe Was And Why Investigators Believe He Committed The Massacre

He was somebody who, in the spring of 1927, had descended into paranoia, and basically had come to believe that his life had been destroyed financially, and in other ways, by his townspeople. [They] had voted to construct a very expensive, new, modern, consolidated school and Kehoe, in the spring of 1927, very diabolically set out to take his revenge on the community by blowing up the school on the last day of the school year. Kehoe rigged the basement of the school with hundreds of pounds of this explosive and set a timer for it to go off at around nine o’clock in the morning on the last day of school. Fortunately, much of it did not explode, but he did destroy one entire wing of the school, killing 38 children and several teachers.

On Why The Disaster Has Mostly Been Forgotten

It happened literally two days before Charles Lindbergh made his world-changing solo flight across the Atlantic. And that was such a momentous event, it displaced everything else from the newspapers. So that was one reason, but I also think, you know, in the book, I call it “a horror ahead of its time.” It was an atrocity that seemed so freakish to the people of the day.

On How The Bath School Disaster Compares To Other Crimes He’s Written About

The Bath School Disaster is really a unique case in our history, I mean, you know, I say it was the deadliest school massacre in our history, which it was. But it was also the only one as far as I’m aware that was committed with explosives. Kehoe really intended to murder every child in the community. I mean, if all of the explosives he planted had actually detonated, he would have killed an entire generation of children in that community. It was a crime of such monstrous proportions, that there really hasn’t been anything quite like it.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

On May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, an embittered member of the Bath Consolidated School Board detonated hundreds of pounds of dynamite in the school. 38 children and 6 adults were killed as a result of the blast.

And the so-called Bath School Disaster remains the worst school massacre in American history.

Harold Schechter is a true crime writer. He is the author of the book, “Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer.” He joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Harold Schechter: Thank you for inviting me on.

Saliby: For those who aren’t familiar with this incredibly sad event, could you explain a little about who Kehoe was and why investigators believe he perpetrated this mass act of violence?

Schechter: Kehoe was a farmer. He was a respected member of the community, so much so that he was elected to the school board where he served as treasurer. But he was also somebody who, in the spring of 1927, had descended into paranoia, and basically had come to believe that his life had been destroyed financially, and in other ways, by his townspeople.

[They] had voted to construct a very expensive, new, modern, consolidated school and Kehoe, in the spring of 1927, very diabolically set out to take his revenge on the community by blowing up the school on the last day of the school year.

Kehoe rigged the basement of the school with hundreds of pounds of this explosive and set a timer for it to go off at around nine o’clock in the morning on the last day of school. Fortunately, much of it did not explode, but he did destroy one entire wing of the school, killing 38 children and several teachers.

And after that, he loaded his Ford with shrapnel and more dynamite, drove down to the scene, called over a few — what we would now call first responders — and detonated his vehicle. Killing himself, and several more people.

Saliby: How did you first learn about it?

Schechter: I’ve always been interested in very heinous and, at the time, sensational crimes. You know, as appalling as the Bath School Disaster was, you know, it’s been almost entirely forgotten. I mean, even people who grew up in Michigan often haven’t heard of it.

So, years ago, I wrote a book on that subject called “Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of,” and the Bath School Disaster was one of the crimes I came across while researching that book.

Saliby: This is something you mentioned being a major theme in your book, despite the Bath School Disaster’s historical precedence to mass killings of the 21st century, few outside the town and mid-Michigan remember it. Reading your book, it was the first time I’d ever heard of it. Why do you think that is?

Schechter: Well, I think there are various reasons. I mean, one was that it happened literally two days before Charles Lindbergh made his world-changing solo flight across the Atlantic. And that was such a momentous event, it displaced everything else from the newspapers. So that was one reason, but I also think, you know, in the book, I call it “a horror ahead of its time.” It was an atrocity that seemed so freakish to the people of the day.

You know, there are certain kinds of crimes I’ve come to believe, that speak to the anxieties and concerns of a particular historical moment. Now, for example, we’re very, very focused on mass murder. 20 years ago, it was serial murder. There were times in our history when it was poison murder, and other times when it was kidnappings.

So, you know, the Bath School Disaster foreshadowed the kinds of crimes we’re obsessed with now, but it didn’t really mean that much to people in the 1920s. It just seemed [like] this one-off act of a madman.

Saliby: How does the Bath School Disaster differ from other crimes or killers you’ve written about?

Schechter: The Bath School Disaster is really a unique case in our history, I mean, you know, I say it was the deadliest school massacre in our history, which it was. But it was also the only one as far as I’m aware that was committed with explosives. Kehoe really intended to murder every child in the community. I mean, if all of the explosives he planted had actually detonated, he would have killed an entire generation of children in that community. It was a crime of such monstrous proportions, that there really hasn’t been anything quite like it.

So yeah, I mean, I think the Bath School Disaster is absolutely unique in our history. And as I said, you know, all throughout the 20th century, there were these “crimes of the century.” You know, going back to probably the killing of Stanford White, but certainly the Leopold and Loeb case in the 1920s, for example, the college age thrill killers, who have really entered into our cultural mythology all the way through Manson and the O.J. case. But as I said, I’ve come to feel the Bath School Disaster, although pretty much totally forgotten, was really the worst American crime of the century.

Saliby: Harold Schechter wrote the book, “Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of The Modern Mass Killer.” Thank you for joining me.

Schechter: Thanks for inviting me on.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.



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